The Importance of the Incheon Landings: Korea 15th September- 15th October, 1950

I predict,” said general of the Army Omar Nelson Bradley, “that large scale amphibious operations will never occur again.”*

Background

Amphibious landings were critical in the Second World War. In the Pacific war, they were the strategically brilliant ‘Leapfrogging’ technique of attacking Japanese held islands, which brought success. In Europe, amphibious landings culminated in the glorious D-Day Normandy attacks. Amphibious landings are fraught with danger as armies wade onto exposed beaches. Every attack is audacious. Incheon was no exception.

North Korea’s unification campaign carried them to the south east corner of Korea. They were halted by the UN at Pusan. Counter-attacking northwards was a guaranteed blood-bath. Korea’s rugged terrain and patriotic communist troops were a fearsome combination. General MacArthur’s Pacific war experiences framed his response. His plan was amphibious landings out-flanking the communists.

North Korea being out-flanked by MacArthur’s amphibious landings

Incheon was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, recapturing Seoul** signalled to the north Koreans that their campaign was doomed. Secondly, the landings meant north Korea’s army south of Seoul had their logistics seriously disrupted. The UN’s Pusan enclave became an offensive asset. Instead of being trapped, the forces were now an active second front with the north Koreans facing north and south.

Discussion

The geo-political implications of the Incheon landings framed the Cold War for the next forty years, providing an unfolding narrative. MacArthur’s strategically brilliant landings were decisive in ending north Korea’s aspirations of a unified Korea. The first ‘hot war’ between the capitalist west and communism was clearly going to end with a north Korean defeat and the peninsula in the hands of the capitalists. Stalin wasn’t prepared to accept this and urged Mao to intervene, which he did.

The scale of the antipathy which existed in the USA against communism is illustrated by their internal politics. Federal employees had to sign a loyalty oath and the McCarthy ‘red baiting’ hearings began in March, 1950. Communist China also had feelings of antipathy. Mao believed the USA wanted to renew the Chinese civil war. The USA had supported Chiang Kai-Shek’s KMT party in the civil war and continued to protect him in Taiwan.***

MacArthur’s adherence to Taiwan hardened Mao’s belief that the USA wished to undo his victory. The USA’s refusal to recognise China as a sovereign state, preferring Chiang Kai-Shek’s KMT government in Taiwan, incensed him. Statements, from MacArthur, such as Taiwan being, ‘an unsinkable aircraft carrier’ made a diplomatic solution impossible,

In Zhou’s draft, Mao added two more conditions: US withdrawal from Taiwan and restoration of the PRC’s rightful place at the UN. It is impossible to resolve the Korean issue and important problems in Asia without consideration of these points.”****

Taiwan and Korea have remained intractable problems ever since.

The western world’s insensitivity to communist China’s fears is astonishing. The fragile newly incorporated nation was unrecognised across the non-communist world. Mao, rightly, felt beleaguered. Established on 1st October, 1949, 54 weeks later China was at war with the UN trying to protect north Korea. President Truman as early as August 1945 had claimed that, “The atomic bomb will give pause to countries which might [be] tempted to commit aggressions.”***** But. North Korea’s campaign wasn’t predicated on a USA led UN response. The conundrum was this: the USA had atomic weapons but would they use them?

President Truman didn’t use the USA’s atomic weapons. He disregarded pressure from MacArthur. Truman’s decision shaped Cold War politics until the fall of the Soviet Union. The importance of the Incheon landings lies in this salient fact. The first ‘hot’ war between the USA – the leader of the free world – and communism established that the nuclear option wouldn’t be used and global conflict would be avoided. This is the definition of the Cold War 1950-1991.

Notes

* Heinl, Robert D. The Inchon Landing: A Case Study in Amphibious Planning.” Naval War College Review, vol. 51, no. 2, 1998, pp. 117–134. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44638141. Accessed 6 July 2020. p118

** About 20 miles from Incheon

*** KMT is the acronym for the Chinese nationalist party Kuomingtang

*** Zhihua, Shen, and Yafeng Xia. “Mao Zedong’s Erroneous Decision During the Korean War: China’s Rejection of the UN Cease-Fire Resolution in Early 1951.” Asian Perspective, vol. 35, no. 2, 2011, pp. 187–209. p194 The PRC is the Chinese communist party’s acronym.

***** Alperovitz, Gar, and Kai Bird. “The Centrality of the Bomb.” Foreign Policy, no. 94, 1994, pp. 3–20. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1149125. Accessed 9 July 2020. p8

Sources

For the battle of Okinawa as an example of ‘Leapfrogging’ see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa

For a discussion of Chin’s entry into the Korean war see Zhihua, Shen, and Yafeng Xia. “Mao Zedong’s Erroneous Decision During the Korean War: China’s Rejection of the UN Cease-Fire Resolution in Early 1951.” Asian Perspective, vol. 35, no. 2, 2011, pp. 187–209. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42704751. Accessed 8 July 2020.

For a UK perspective on MacArthur and his connexion to Taiwan see BELMONTE, LAURA. “Anglo-American Relations and the Dismissal of MacArthur.” Diplomatic History, vol. 19, no. 4, 1995, pp. 641–667. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24912331. Accessed 8 July 2020.

For communist China’s entry into the UN on 25th October 1971 see https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/oct-25-1971-peoples-republic-of-china-in-taiwan-out-at-un/

For Chiang Kai-Shek see https://www.britannica.com/biography/Chiang-Kai-shek

For McCarthyism see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism

For the failure of the USA’s intelligence analysis see https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/09/13/catastrophe-on-the-yalu-americas-intelligence-failure-in-korea/

For the dates when communist China was recognised see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dates_of_establishment_of_diplomatic_relations_with_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China#:~:text=at%20the%20UN-,1949,in%201949%20were%20communist%20states.

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